The Booker Prize 2022 #9: After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz



At the beginning was Sappho, who spoke of her lovers and for sapphic women centuries on. Women – artists, writers, dancers, actresses – who need to break free from their families, the ways prescribed or their gender, to live and love freely and fully are inspired by the fragments that remain from Lesbos. After Sappho too is told in fragments. Fragments of these women’s lives that include Natalie Barney, Romaine Brooks, Gertrude Stein, Sibilla Aleramo, Lina Poletti, and Virginia Woolf. All are connected not just through their desire for women’s liberation and their love for the same poetry, but through love stories that are told in short but impressive vignettes. We see these women push forward the boundaries of what womanhood can be around the turn of the twentieth century, a freedom they have found first within themselves. What an astonishing debut! This story, somewhere between fiction and creative non-fiction, is an inspiring account of so many women’s lives that are largely untold but have helped shape the path of European societies and queer identities. Creativity is not only a central theme in this novel, but the book is bursting with it. Unique, compelling, and unlike anything I’ve read before. Schwartz plays with the boundaries of the medium, makes a novel into something old and new. The chorus that reappears again and again to connect the threads of the women’s lives reminds of course of antiquity but the “we” also includes us, the readers. The only criticism I have for this is that some characters could have been left out. The authors desire to give voice to many an unsung heroine (if only form a quite specific social sphere) leads to some lengths and risks the book losing its sense of urgency halfway through. But wherever that threatens to happen, Schwartz saves the day with her stunning lyrical writing, stylistically she never misses her mark. After Sappho is a fluid, glowing, and inspiring celebration of queerness and womanhood.

4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All